Cyclo (1996) VT

July 16, 2003 • Film, Reviews

[director Tran Anh Hung}

129 min

This is one of the very best movies I have ever seen. I realize that is a rather debatable opinion, in part because most people, in the United States, at least, have never even heard of this movie. If you were lucky enough to see it in its 6 days running in theaters in this country, more power to you. But for the rest of us, the only way to see it has been New Yorker Video’s VHS release, and, more recently, Media Asia’s excellent DVD transfer.

I first heard of it when a preview was shown in my hometown. Grounded, middle-aged people on their way to see a Jane Austen adaption or such were reportedly on their feet screaming in terror when the preview played. It was almost three years until it was finally available on home video, but the wait was more than worth it.

Cyclo is not a horror film. It does not belong in any genre, really. It is truly terrifying, but in its frightening imagery rather than in any calculated set pieces. It has the ability to put you in the environment each scene is taking place in. This is in equal parts due to the convincing reality of the actors and to the luscious production and sound design and cinematography, all presided over by director Tran Ahn Hung. Tran’s touch is inspired in its clarity, allowing the production to vacillate between scenes of tranquil beauty and hideous violence in a heartbeat.

One example of this film’s potent imagery comes when the cyclo, the nominal hero of the film, is going stir-crazy after his crime boss has confined him to a small room for several days. He spies a lizard running along the wall and grabs it. Holding it in his hands, he studies it; then, inspired by some frightening and indefinable urge, he tears off the lizard’s tail and sticks the still-flickering tail in his mouth. Such unusual images span the breadth of this film, as we follow a cyclo driver (a “”cyclo”” refers to both the pedicab and the driver who makes his meager living off of it) and his family through the criminal underworld of modern Saigon when the cyclo, a large monetary investment for the poverty-stricken family, is stolen. Tran Ahn Hung’s wife plays the eldest sister in the family and Le Van Loc, who also appears in Tran’s later The Vertical Ray of the Sun, plays the crime boss here. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is imported from Hong Kong and dubbed into Vietnamese.

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